A donation of Gloria Victus had to be turned down by the Archdiocese of Toronto because it didn’t fit with Catholic tradition. Photo from Wikimedia

Do your due diligence when donating gifts

  • November 3, 2021

Many people looking to donate artwork and items in that vein to the Church or their parish come with the best of intentions, bearing gifts they believe hold incredible value — monetary or spiritual — but it’s not always the case.

It’s why Peter Okonski has this advice for those wishing to make such a donation: do your research.

Okonski is manager of planned giving and personal gifts for the Archdiocese of Toronto. Since assuming the role in 2019, he has seen such scenarios where someone would like to donate a piece of art to the Catholic Church or one of its parishes, but the Church has been unable to accept the gift.

Okonski relates the story about a bronze statue one donor thought was a prized commodity.

“It started when this lady contacted me,” he said. “Her neighbour had a statue, which she described as an angel helping most likely a wounded man. It was on a pedestal, it was very heavy and the idea was to find a parish that would like to have this sculpture.”

Okonski secured pictures from the woman to assess if the archdiocese could accommodate this request. He was informed that transporting this piece, if the gift was approved, would be onerous as the statue’s height exceeds six feet and it is “very, very heavy” as the pedestal was made of either marble or concrete.

Acting on a hunch that the statue was a copy, Okonski did an online deep dive to see if he could find any similar image online. He tinkered around with different wording for his search, but he came up empty.

However, enlarging the submitted photos offered some clues.

“I noticed on one picture that there was some kind of writing on the pedestal,” said Okonski. “I could not read the whole thing, but I could read the first word, ‘Gloria’ and the first three letters of the second word — V, I, C.”

Googling “Gloria Vic” revealed a similar image to the one in the photos. And though everyone he showed the pictures to within the archdiocese unanimously agreed that it was an angel depicted in the statue, “It turned out that this sculpture doesn’t represent an angel. It represents the Greek goddess of fame,” said Okonski.

The entire title of the statue is Gloria Victus. by Antonin Mercié commemorating fallen soldiers from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The man being carried by the Greek deity is a dying French war hero.

The question Okonski’s research needed to answer was if the image fit with Catholic tradition.

Ultimately, showcasing an artistic work from a polytheistic belief system would be impossible in a Catholic church.

“If we were not in the Catholic-Christian sphere, it would of course be great to receive such a gift,” said Okonski. “But in our setting, it would be very inappropriate to offer this statue of a Greek goddess to a parish.”

Okonski mined some wisdom from this “sobering tale.”

“I think that it is always worth it to make sure that what we are considering as something is, in reality, that something — not something totally different.”

While every artistic work is its own unique entity, Okonski recommends consultation with an appraiser and an online search similar to the one he conducted as two methods to assess the authenticity and value of a potential gift. 

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